WPL 2024: Harmanpreet Kaur’s return to form, S Sajana’s last-ball six lights up opening night as MI beat DC in thriller

The inaugural day of the second edition of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) was as narrative-rich as it gets. In a game that went down to the wire, there a first-ball six from a league debutant to round out the tricky chase for the Mumbai Indians. But the fact that the driver of the run chase was their skipper, Harmanpreet Kaur, came as much-needed relief for a batter whose barren run had become a cause for concern.

In a game that saw momentum ebb from one side to the other at several different junctures, Sajana Sajeevan’s heave over long on from the last ball, as Mumbai needed 5 runs to win, will be the memorable moment of the match. But it was the culmination of a base set up by half-centuries from Yastika Bhatia and Harmanpreet, whose calm, well-paced 34-ball 55 allowed the chase to never be out of reach for her side.

The batting form of the Indian captain had been a talking point from India’s recent bumper home season. 146 runs in nine T20 innings with six single-digit scores made for grim reading. Her match-winning heroics in her side’s four-wicket win over the Delhi Capitals on Friday comes at an opportune time.

After a strong start from Nat-Sciver Brunt and Yastika, Harmanpreet entered the field of play at 50/2 with the powerplay done. The skipper needed to be a solid supporting act to Yastika but also needed to play her part to keep the pressure off her partner.

She flourished in the middle-order enforcer role, as she does for India, building partnerships first with Yastika and then with Amelia Kerr. Towards the end, the skipper then also took on Shikha Pandey and Annabel Sutherland – a death-overs specialist – to score crucial boundaries before Sajana soaked up the glory at the end.

Harmanpreet would later credit her Player of the Match performance to work with her batting coach and a break she took after the series against Australia, not returning to domestic cricket the way her teammates did. “After the Australia series, I was not feeling well. [Himanshu bhaiya] made me practice hard and gave me energy. I wanted to take a break and feel mentally well,” she said post-match.

Her runs come at a crucial time for her franchise, but also for Team India, who will need this version of Harmanpreet, the batter, at the T20 World Cup later this year.

Festive offer

Sluggish start

Delhi reached a par total of 171 despite a tentative start thanks to a superb half-century from Alice Capsey, ably supported by skipper Meg Lanning and Jemimah Rodrigues, on a good batting wicket.

Delhi had been reduced to 6/1 within the first three overs. They ended the powerplay at 26/1. Mumbai, in the run chase, posted 50, a potentially match-winning difference.

Ismail, the veteran South African speedster who was Mumbai’s marquee signing, was finding movement off the pitch with the new ball making both openers struggle. But ultimately, it was the tentativeness of Shafali Varma that gave Mumbai the breakthrough.

Shafali was caught off balance after a premeditated shift in her stance, swinging a wild cross-bat shot, losing her middle stump to Ismail’s cutter. It was the kind of shot that would cause further scrutiny into her ability to play match situations or bat at any pace other than all-out attack.

Shafali’s recklessness was further compounded by Capsey and Lanning’s caution early on. But aided by some sloppy fielding, Capsey kept the scoreboard ticking with constant boundaries (including back-to-back sixes in the 12th over) and skillful manipulation of the field in her 53-ball 75.

Despite a slow start, Lanning was able to feed off of Capsey’s strokeplay, and Rodrigues continued in the same vein after settling in, rattling off four boundaries and two sixes from her last 14 balls for a 24-ball 42. In-form Marizanne Kapp added a final flourish to make sure Delhi went past 170.

The total felt sufficient, but combined with loose bowling at the death – it was Capsey herself who bowled the final over and conceded a six from the final ball – the start ended up hurting Delhi in a winnable opening encounter.

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